Author Archives: neisenstat

With the epic demise of Blockbuster, many librarians are getting more questions from movie lovers. We can provide more human intelligence than a Netflix Top Picks List and can consider more than the genres of the last few films the patrons have enjoyed. Plus we get to talk to patrons about topic with almost universal appeal — who doesn’t love movies?


These guys, I guess…

Like many librarians with an interest in readers’ advisory, I enjoy reading great criticism of works almost as much as I would enjoy the original. Growing up I would read straight through Videohound’s Golden Movie Retriever (yes, it lives) and read Roger Ebert’s take on every film I came across and also many I didn’t , Now, film reviews, written by professionals or enthusiasts, are readily accessible online.

I enjoy reading The AV Club and Sound on Sight. These websites cover both television and movies and tend to focus on films across decades and genres, rather than just the latest blockbusters. Sound on Sight releases regular podcasts where a panel of critics discuss television and movies in detail, and focuses on film festivals and independent pictures that might fly under the radar.

There are a lot of different factors to take into account while providing readers’ advisory for films. You might want to find movies from the same director, particularly when a patron has enjoyed a film from a director with a clear, distinctive style. A patron might be drawn to a particular performer, in which case one might find recommendations based on the actor’s IMDB page. You can look within particular subgenres but like other formats it’s important to consider the different tones that can change everything about a film’s appeal. One can compare the action-comedy tone of the Evil Dead II versus the grim and foreboding mood of The Exorcist.

However, my experience is that you’re more likely to have a patron ask you about what television series to watch next rather than their next film. Television series, even those with six episodes a season, represent an investment of time that most movies simply are not, therefore some prior research before checking out a pilot has a lot of appeal.

Certain extended additions excluded...

Certain extended additions excluded…

For an overview of the television landscape try listening to Sepinwall and Fiendberg’s Firewall and Iceberg podcast, which reviews modern television while frequently referencing classics from the not-so-distant past. The hosts have good chemistry and touch on new series as they come out, and revisiting existing ones as they jump the shark or hit their stride.

Don’t be afraid to recommend a movie if you believe you’ve found something that would be a good fit for the patron. A patron might not have even considered a regiment of films rather than an ongoing series prior to approaching your information desk.

Let’s turn again to some more tools of the movie maven trade. Rotten Tomatoes is useful and it’s likely you’ve already visited many times on your own. A discovery I just made was that many films on Rotten Tomatoes have a “If You Like This Movie…” section with similar films recommended by the website’s users.

When I’m considering recommending a film I haven’t seen to a younger patron, I use CommonSense Media. They give age ratings and are thorough in the reasoning of their ratings system. Yes, DVDs also have ratings and labels on their covers as well, but rarely is there room to go into as much detail as CommonSense Media provides.

Finally, I find I turn to Youtube often while talking about television and films. Clips and trailers can clarify what a patron is looking for, such as figuring out if the sense of humor of a work is in line with the patron’s.

How often do you find yourself playing Siskel and Ebert at the information desk? Do you use resources that this above post missed?

Changes and Ceremonies: RA and Alice Munro

It's all going according to plan...

It’s all going according to plan…

Let’s take a break to discuss a challenge too many of our libraries face — we have run out of copies of books by Alice Munro. Of course, readers eager to experience Canada’s champion writer can always read samples of her short stories online, but that’s not enough for many readers.

Readers’ Advisory for Alice Munro is difficult, and I have a confession: I’m not entirely sure I’ve read a short story of Alice Munro’s unless you count an extract during my English 12 Provincial – which I think is only fair that we do, but I digress. I’ve been playing a grand game of catch-up here, and I’m happy to I share what I’ve found.

Let’s begin with what I knew of Alice Munro as a Canadian who has (probably) not read Alice Munro: She wrote critically acclaimed short stories set in a small town in the… Maritimes? Her stories were mostly about the internal lives of girls and women living in these modest surroundings. The plots of her short stories were more character-driven than action driven, and for some reason I was certain that one of her stories featured a woman who was burnt to death by a lantern.

I was wrong about the Maritimes (Huron County, Ontario is Alice Munro’s jam) but otherwise the bare facts are mostly right. However, the more I’ve read, the more I realized that I had a very shallow understanding of her work. There are many articles that reflect how deeply her readers are impacted by her writing. This article from the Toronto Star is an excellent example, as is this piece from Book Riot. Read-alikes seem almost like a mechanical response to works so particular and personal. And if I recommend Margaret Atwood, how badly will the patron give me the fish-eye?

As individual as Munro’s work is, a list of similar writers can be a useful starting point. Writers recommended by Novelist include Edith Pearlman and Elizabeth Hay. There are also several other recommendation lists to be found online, such as the one on Vancouver Public Library‘s Reader’s Cafe

Non-Fiction is also an option. Halifax Public Library’s Readers’ Advisory Blog has a brief post that discusses supplementary materials for Munro’s works, including biographies and critical essays. One might also consider non-fiction titles and/or memoirs that cover similar settings or issues as Munro’s.

I’ve found in my grand game of catch-up several interesting articles that examine what Munro’s win means for different areas in lit. The Millions has published a Beginners Guide to Canadian Lit and The Globe and Mail took the opportunity to celebrate the short story.

For readers intrigued by Munro more for her critical acclaim than for her style, we can point out Lynn Coady, whose short story collection of Hellgoing has recently won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. For readers looking for other Canadians who won international awards, we could also point to titles like Ondaatje‘s The English Patient, Martel‘s Life of Pi, Atwood‘s Blind Assassin, Shield‘s Larry’s Party, or Michael‘s Fugitive Pieces.

Libraries can also consider programs to bolster Munro-Mania. For instance, the Guildford Branch of Surrey Libraries is featuring a drop-in book club on Alice Munro’s Dear Life.

How would you approach a readers’ advisory interview with a reader new to Alice Munro?

What are You Hearing? Podcasts and RA

I know I use huge 80s headphones when getting my dose of Ira Glass.

I know I use huge 80s headphones when getting my dose of Ira Glass.

There are a lot of ways to track the shivering swarm of new information from Book World. I read blogs, I read the newspaper, I visit my bookclub, I repetitively poke my friends’ shoulders until they surrender to me their thoughts on Donna Tartt — but I find podcasts the easiest way to learn about different books while on the go.

Here is a sample of some of the book review podcasts I follow:


This podcast is hosted by two librarians of the Twinsburg Public Library. They often talk about a bunch of different books surrounding a theme, which gives me a chance to sample a little bit of everything. They sometimes showcase author interviews as well.

book-review-podcast-logo2009-articleInline-v3 Inside the New York Times Review of Books

Each week Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Review of Books, sits down with major authors to discuss their work. This week’s entry (October 20th) includes an interview with Donna Tartt and Helen Fielding, amongst others.

This podcast is brought to the front of my queue when downloaded — witty and fun hosts with great chemistry and eclectic selections. You can also follow the show’s Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook accounts.


Who were once three are now two, but two “chicks” continue to provide a strong overview of the comic books scene. With comics frequently going for grimgrittydark, I especially appreciate their eye for materials that are suitable for kids and adults.

The_Papa_of_the_Phonograph,_Daily_GraphicSo that’s something for us, but I wonder if it is possible to integrate podcasts into our readers’ advisory work in other ways? I like finding stuff my patrons like even if this means finding stuff outside my library’s collection. Furthermore, podcast listeners are often also readers who are on the lookout for reads that touch upon their iTunes queue.

historyofrome' The History of Rome 

A popular example is The History of Rome podcast by Mike Duncan — it’s exactly what it sounds like. It covered the rise and fall of the Roman empire in weekly segments over several years. This is great for any reader with an interest in classical history or even historical fiction.


RadioLab tells interesting stories of when humanity intersects with science. They also maintain a handy-dandy Tumblr that recommends books related to their shows. This is popular with the show’s listeners who want to continue the themes of the episode with a good book.


Along the science and technology bent is StarTalk, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. He discusses the marvels of the galaxy in witty, engrossing manner with comedians to astronauts. Tyson is also a prolific writer so listeners may want to check out his books in between new podcasts.


This is a great podcast for readers of classic lit. Major works of literature are re-examined with a quirky bent and juxtaposed with modern pop culture faves. Recommend it to those just discovering the classics or any Austenite you can track down.

What podcasts do you follow to keep your readers’ advisory edge? Have podcasts even come up before at the information desk? I’d love to hear from you!

And a quick reminder: Tomorrow is the last day to register for RA in a Half Day! Procrastinators of legend, now is your time!